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Recent history has not been kind to the Fairfax High boys lacrosse team. The Rebels finished the last three seasons with a record of 8-36, rendering their bygone years of consistent success a distant memory. Competing against some of the toughest teams in the state, Fairfax players are more accustomed to playing second fiddle to their Liberty District opponents than they are to actually competing with them.

Yet the man at the program’s forefront remembers when he suited up in blue and white, a time period that knew Fairfax as a mainstay in the Northern Region tournament year after year. Head coach Ryan Brown, a 2001 Fairfax grad, hasn’t forgotten the days when the Rebels were regularly in the mix at the top of the district. With a senior-laden squad hungry for a breakout season, Brown might be on the cusp of a program turnaround this spring.

Though hardly the most accomplished group in the area, the Rebels are certainly one of the most experienced entering this season. Most of the team’s 19 seniors have been playing on the varsity squad since their sophomore years, a situation owing to the graduation of 22 seniors three years ago. That sophomore-filled bunch went winless in 2011, and last year’s 3-12 finish has them determined to cut ties with their losing habits this year.

“There’s definitely a little bit of a mentality of knowing they can go far this year since this is their last year,” said Brown, now in his fifth year as head coach. “I think they feel they’ve just lost enough games. They’ve paid their dues and they’re ready to win.”

District play has yet to get underway, but the Rebels’ 4-0 start has already put them ahead of last season’s win total. They kicked off the year with a 20-1 romp against Wakefield and beat their next three National District opponents by a combined score of 40-13.

The team’s improvement hasn’t just come from its collective experience. It’s also the product of an active offseason that saw Fairfax players train and compete at high levels during the summer and fall months. In addition to playing on travel teams and in camps, players benefitted from the initiative of parent volunteers, who hired an area lacrosse specialist to help sharpen skills in the offseason.

Many members of the team also came together to compete in offseason tournaments, a common practice for area prep players but one that hadn’t really been undertaken in earnest by Fairfax. They excelled in two tournaments over the summer and three in the fall, placing near the top in the Fairfax Fall Brawl and the Turkey Shootout in Oakton, among other events.

“I think that’s the final piece of the whole puzzle,” Brown said. “They all have the skill and the desire to win, but they hadn’t had the confidence or swagger that winning teams carry with them. So some of the wins in the offseason kind of developed that. Now they expect to win, they want to win and they have the ability to.”

A team built on exceptional speed, Fairfax is buoyed at midfield by a solid core of seniors that includes Austin Black, Thor Rasmussen, Ben Click and Colin Malo. The defense is anchored by senior Tommy Burford, while senior Josh Minionis is a reliable long stick middie.

The team’s promising youth shines up top with a dynamic pair of sophomores that combined for 11 goals and eight assists in the squad’s first three games this season. Joe Germano, dubbed the team’s ‘lax rat’ by coaches, shows a year-round passion for the game that resulted in his place in the varsity lineup as a freshman last year. In the team’s second game this season, Colton Godfrey came off the bench after a mediocre first half that saw Fairfax up 2-1 at the break and put in three goals that sparked the Rebels to a 10-4 victory against Washington-Lee. He has so far thrived in the absence of his older brother, Travis, who is fighting back from an injury.

Even with a few standout performances here and there, the Rebels know their progress depends more on the chemistry built from years of playing together than it does on the individual skills of one or two guys.

“It’s really taken everyone working together collectively,” Rasmussen said. “Everybody’s put in the work in the offseason, everyone’s in the weight room. Everyone’s just been working hard for this season.”

Routinely facing district opponents like four-time defending state champion Langley, Brown admitted that his players have tended to get intimidated when looking across the field and seeing the names of those more successful schools on the front of other teams’ jerseys. This year he wants them to reverse that habit and start teaching people to respect the name on their own jerseys.

That challenge begins next Friday when the Rebels return from a two-week layoff to kick off their district slate against South Lakes. Players and coaches have agreed that it’s a game they need to win if they really want to make that long-awaited return to the top of the Liberty this spring.

“We know the district is a long shot,” Brown said. “That’s not to say that isn’t a goal of ours to win. Obviously going into every game we want to win. But our more modest goal is we want to finish top four in the district, which would guarantee us a spot in regionals. That would give us a chance to make a run and see what we can do.”

neilerson@fairfaxtimes.com